Online Academic Abuses and the Power of Openness: Naming & Shaming

Gustaf Nelhans gustaf.nelhans at THEORYSC.GU.SE
Tue Apr 10 10:43:17 EDT 2012

Dear Professor Harnad,
    I believe that it is not always easy to identify the motives behind specific instances of self references (although in the case at hand, the number of mutual citations identified seem to speak for themselves…). The practice of self citation is (as you acknowledge) not in itself a bad thing, but the problem is how to distinguish its legitimate use from its abuse. This is equally valid on the individual level as in editor-suggested references. I would like to draw into attention an exchange about these matters from 1997, where Eugene Garfield stated:
“Recognising the reality of the Matthew effect, I believe that an editor is justified in reminding authors to cite equivalent references from the same journal, if only because readers of that journal presumably have ready access to it. To call this “manipulation” seems excessive unless the references chosen are irrelevant or mere window dressing.” (Garfield, Eugene. 1997. Editors are justified in asking authors to cite equivalent references from same journal. BMJ 314 (7096):1765. )
    My question is if there could exist any method of identifying “bad apples” that does not account for the specific context in the article in which the reference is placed. In my understanding of the problem, the proposed way of using statistical methods for identifying baselines for self citations in various fields could be one important step, but I wonder if it would suffice to make the identification process complete?

Best regards,
Gustaf Nelhans
University of Gothenburg, University of Borås,

10 apr 2012 kl. 13.26 skrev Stevan Harnad:

Self-citation in order to enhance a journal's impact factor
is certainly an abuse, well worth controlling and exposing.

Self-citation to enhance an individual's citation count is futile.
Personal citation statistics, used in performance evaluation,
can easily be processed to cull out self-citations.

And at the individual level, self-citation can be entirely
legitimate -- drawing attention to the author's work that is
relevant to (and may have been ignored by) the target
research field.

If there are citation circles doing mutual back-scratching
among co-authors, that too is becoming increasingly detectable
and name-and-shameable, especially in the Open Access era.

(The online digital online medium and the power of computation
do make many forms of abuse possible, but open access also
provides equally powerful means to expose and punish them:
hence, once exposed as exposable, they are likely to become
their own deterrents.)

Stevan Harnad

On 2012-04-10, at 6:41 AM, Philip Davis wrote:

Emergence of a Citation Cartel
10 April, 2012
The Scholarly Kitchen

"In a 1999 essay published in Science titled, “Scientific Communication — A Vanity Fair?” George Franck warned us on the possibility of citation cartels — groups of editors and journals working together for mutual benefit. To date, this behavior has not been widely documented; however, when you first view it, it is astonishing."

Gustaf Nelhans
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
University of Gothenburg
Visiting Address: Olof Wijksgatan 6
Mail Address: P. O. Box 200, SE 405 30 Gothenburg

Tel: +46 (0)31 786 44 78, Cell: +46 (0)709 54 44 26
gustaf.nelhans at<mailto:gustaf.nelhans at>

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